Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is Joyous with Lovely Country Songs, but Too Many Characters Around


This review is written as part of the series "the films of... Joel Coen and Ethan Coen"

When receiving his Oscar for winning Best Adapted Screenplay for "No Country for Old Men", Joel Coen jokingly said, " "I think whatever success we've had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are--we've only adapted Homer and Cormac McCarthy." Cormac McCarthy is, of course, the author of the novel from which the Coens adapted into "No Country", but Homer? "The Odyssey" by the greatest Greek poet is indeed listed as the work adapted by the Coens for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", but the fact is, they have never really read it. It has just inspired them.

Neither have I read "The Odyssey", but it doesn't matter anyway. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a comedy that is loosely based on the poem. Taken place in the south, in the years of the Great Depression, we're introduced with three escaped prisoners: Everett McGill (George Clooney), Delmar (John Turturro), and Pete (Tim Blake Nelson). Having nowhere to go, Everett convinces Delmar and Pete that he has hidden a treasure worths millions of dollars that he will split to them, if they are willing to help him recollect it. So they join the adventure, without knowing that many things will happen to them that involve their spiritual belief and fate.


The funny thing is, this "treasure" stuff never really attracts me somehow. The trio never seem to eagerly chase for it. It feels more like a trip with no real destination to reach but clear enemies to hide from. They keep running from the lawmen, but in between the time they didn't really try to escape from them. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" has the taste of a road movie, but instead of doing it straight, the Coens poured it with too many layers. While it begins with slavery, there is also a slice of political theme in it. There are love and lust in it. There is crime. And, of course, there are lots of religious and philosophical references.

While Delmar and Pete often refer things they find in the journey as signs of the almighty God, Everett tends to be a rational man, if not a doubter. He always tries to find reason behind what the oldman (whom they met after having just escaped from the slavery) said about their fate, or why he didn't join the mass baptisism. What he cares is his look, especially his hair. The two are not as talky as Everett, and this fact makes him looks smarter and truer than them. But they, unfortunately, never become a comedy. Or, in terms of entertainment, their conversations never really bring amusement.


Perhaps it because George Clooney couldn't really fit into such a miserable, messy prisoner. He can't play flamboyant in Everett. While John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson get their look, Clooney fails. The way he talks is the only thing that helps him. Besides, too many characters involved in this supposedly simple and more comedic story are unnecessary (or useless, strictly speaking). John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King, or Michael Badalucco play characters that supposedly spark up the adventure, but I think they are not interesting enough to steal attention--which is kind of surprising, minding that the Coen brothers, in most of their films, always try to finely write all the characters.

But I do enjoy the technical thing. Cinematography and country songs are two things responsible in creating most of the emotional moments in this film. Where on earth could you see George Clooney singing (or lip-syncing, actually) some ear-catchy country songs, or John Turturro yodeling like crazy on stage? If you can't catch the sackful of subtle meanings within the plot or you are not interested with the characters, you can just enjoy the musics and visuals. You can just get yourself lost in the story, but the lovely songs and shots won't fail you.


The spiritual message is always delivered successfully by the duo auteurs, but in the case of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", the formula does not always work. Perhaps if you love the country songs and the cinematography alone, you will enjoy this film a bit, but for me, the story does not round up as good as I expected before.



 ▲  Lovely country songs, beautiful portraits of the South
 ▼  Combined with too many characters and subplots

O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2000 RATING Rated PG-13 for some violence and language RUNTIME 106 min GENRE Comedy, Crime CAST George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Badalucco, John Goodman WRITER Ethan Coen, Joel Coen DIRECTOR Ethan Coen (uncredited), Joel Coen MORE INFO

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